Reece’s Rainbow Report #43: Pinkston Family

Special needs parenting isn’t easy; this Sharon Pinkston knows. So the adoptive mom of six makes it a point to run away several days a week — literally. 

“To be able to take care of my kids well, I need to stay in shape,” she says from her home in Quebec, Canada. “The exercise gives me more energy.” 

And she needs it. She and her husband Robert, a church-planting strategist and student minister, are not only adoptive parents but also the founders of Run4Roo, a nonprofit organization that gives $500 grants to adopting families (34 so far). The funds are raised primarily through road racing

“We try every year to give one more grant than the year before,” she says. “This last year, I think we gave out 10 grants to families.” 

Run4Roo, named after their son, Arouna, got its start in 2018, four years after the Pinkstons brought him home from Burkina Faso. But really, you would have to rewind back even further, to 1970s West Africa, where Robert grew up as a missionary kid. The experience left a lasting impact on him. The Pinkston family also worked in the West African nation of Mali from 1996 to 2000 and in Haiti in 2010 and 2011. 

During that last Haiti trip, Sharon, Robert and their biological children worked in an orphanage with between five and 10 kids with obvious special needs. A worker told Sharon that the “normal” kids all had families coming for them, but no one wanted the kids with disabilities. 

“That just really broke my heart,” she says. “They didn’t have anybody.” 

Once they returned home, the Pinkston children began a campaign to convince their parents to adopt a sibling with special needs. Sharon was immediately in, though it took Robert a few years to agree. When he said yes, they wanted to adopt from Haiti. 

But the nation temporarily closed down to international adoptions, leading the Pinkstons to look elsewhere. Robert and Sharon’s age — both are now in their mid or late 50s — also factored in. They wanted to get a move on! 

So they found an agency that worked in West African nations and discovered Arouna — nicknamed Roo — on their website. He was only two, nonverbal and had cerebral palsy, a diagnosis the couple felt comfortable with. 

What they decidedly did not feel comfortable with, however, were cognitive delays. They had been relieved when Arouna’s orphanage told them that though he was deaf and blind, he had no cognitive issues

“But we noticed right away that we would hold a spoon and Roo would turn to it, so it’s like, okay, he’s not blind,” Sharon says. “Then someone dropped a pan in the kitchen and he jumped, so we knew he wasn’t deaf.” 

What he was, no doubt, was massively intellectually delayed. The Pinkstons struggled for several days, wondering if they should go ahead with the adoption. 

“We were thinking, ‘Okay, God, we came to adopt one child, but we’re getting a totally different child,’” she remembers. “But we can look back now and see that God had kept us from knowing about his intellectual disability, because we probably would have said no to him. But now that he’s with us, he’s the perfect fit for our family.” 

Sharon and Robert brought two-year-old Arouna home to Canada in 2014, where he began changing almost instantly. Within a week, he was making sounds. He also began smiling at his new family and finding ways to communicate.

“Arouna is now very aware of things. He understands us in English and French,” says Sharon, an Arkansas native who is bilingual alongside her husband. “He reacts and responds to what we say. He’s happy.”

Things were going so well with Arouna that the couple felt drawn to adopt again. Bulgaria was known to be a quicker program that accepted older applicants, so they adopted Pesho, a six-year-old boy with spina bifida and other diagnoses, in 2019. He and Arouna are exactly nine months apart. 

Pesho, who was listed as Pero on Reece’s Rainbow, struggled mightily with concentration and trauma-related behaviors. He had never seen a book or been read to, had no idea what colors were and “couldn’t sit still for more than five seconds.”

“He definitely has a strong will and a strong spirit,” his new mother says. “But he’s calmed down now and feels safe. We still see a lot of trauma behavior from him, but it is getting better.” 

Pesho, now 10 and the youngest Pinkston, can read and loves spending time with his grown sisters especially. Arouna is 11 and currently waiting on a new communication device, since he is still nonverbal. He loves going for runs in his special stroller, with his mom or dad pushing him through the stunning Canadian landscape. 

“I once had a goal of pushing both Roo and Pesho for a marathon,” says Sharon, who has carted Arouna through several 26.2-mile courses. “But then I figured out I would be pushing between 150 and 200 pounds while also running, so….” For now, she sticks to racing alone or with a single child. 

People often are incredulous when they see Sharon running with a stroller or hear her family’s story, especially in Canada where international special needs adoption is less common. “Wait, why? Did you not know they were disabled before you adopted them?” is a common refrain. They are often even more amazed when they hear of the thousands of dollars she and Robert raise each year for other families in the same boat.

“I’m like yes, we did and do this on purpose,” Sharon says. “I wish Canadians, Americans or whatever culture would realize that it doesn’t take someone special to do what we’re doing, just somebody willing.” 

“They could know the joy and blessing that special needs adoption can bring to their lives, too. It doesn’t ruin or mess up your family, it just changes it.” 

It’s exactly why Sharon and Robert keep running — and keep running home.

Crystal Kupper
Crystal Kupper is a freelance writer specializing in magazines and special projects. Since earning her journalism degree, she has written for clients such as Zondervan, Focus on the Family and the Salvation Army, among many others.
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